Classics: The Whole Story – by Charlotte Canelli

Read the published version of Library Director Charlotte Canelli’s column in the August 2, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. 

I’m always sad when I find that one of my favorite children’s books has gone out of print.  Several of some lesser-known children’s authors have published amazing picture books and they’ve never have published a second. The first edition isn’t reprinted; when supplies dwindle (or when remainder piles are snapped up in discount book stores) the book becomes impossible to find.

Sadly, one of my favorite series of books for children and teens is out of print.  It is the Whole Story series of extraordinary unabridged classics. There are fifteen in the set and they were published by Viking Press between 1994 and 2002.

I was a children’s librarian when many of the books in this series were first published. I delighted in introducing them to my readers, especially preteen boys.  Upon my suggestion, the books flew out of the library and were often unavailable when I recommended them. Sometimes, I resorted to lending my own collection. One of those books in my home library still contains a Post-it note that exclaims “Please let Peter keep this as long as he needs.  He can return it to my desk when he is finished.”

My favorite among the Whole Story series is Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne with illustrations by James Prunier. The series was published in hardback; many of those in the series were reprinted in paperback a year later.  The hardback editions have dust jackets, but the paperbacks are nearly  as sturdy with thick covers that fold into a flyleaf on either side that can be used as page markers. The paper is extraordinary – thick, glossy and heavy and perfect for the hundreds of full-color illustrations and annotations. You might say that the sturdy feel of these books is worthy of the respect they deserve.

Anyone who has read Around the World in Eighty Days understands just how important an accompanying map can be. This Whole Story version of the book includes dozens of maps that embellish the trip taken by Phileas Fogg and Passapartout, his rather naïve French valet.  The two men have set out to circumnavigate the globe. Doubting members of Fogg’s acquaintances at the Reform Club in London have wagered a bet with Phileas Fogg.  The date is October 1, 1872 and Phileas will win 20,000 British pounds if he successfully returns by December 21, traveling around the world in 80 days or less.

The Whole Story versions combines history, geography and literature in one volume. Hundreds of annotations in Around the World in Eighty Days appear in sidebars; many include definitions of words or descriptions of places unknown to the reader.  A palanquin “is a covered chair, or litter, carried on poles on the shoulders.”  Sacramento, California, “the capital, lies south of the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.”

This version of Around the World in Eighty Days is absolutely enchanting for any reader, young or old.

Another of my favorites, as well as one of my highest recommendations for boys, is Treasure Island written by Robert Lewis Stevenson. (Stevenson first serialized the story in a children’s magazine in 1881. The first edition of the entire book was published in 1883).

The Treasure Island edition is this series is illustrated by Francois Place. Buried private treasure, intrigue, and adventures including a hero and a villain make this book irresistible.  Pages 54-55 include ocean charts; pages 56-57 illustrate navigational instruments of the day.  Ship’s compasses, completely in color, cover pages 58-59.  Further on are four pages of illustrations of ship’s rigging and sails; more pages follow on nautical ropeworks and knots and diagrams of a ship’s anatomy.  Annotated descriptions include that it took “fifteen men to furl and lash a large square sail” or “the firepower of pirates was not highly effective as they had little powder and few guns”.

The characters in Treasure island, Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver and Captain Flint, have captured children’s fancies for more than a century and the Whole Story version of the tale can be truly inspiring.

Other books in this amazing series are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, illustrated by Claude Lapointe. One colorful illustration depicts what Injun Joe might have looked like; another is a photograph of a bedroom restored to what might have actually been in Aunt Polly’s house.  Two page spreads of the “triumph of steam navigation” or “scenes from life on the Mississippi” are examples of the scientific, historical, or sociological explanations in the book.

Five more examples of these extraordinary versions are Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (another by Stevenson) and Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Anna Sewall’s Black Beauty, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and Other Stories, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books are another half-dozen titles.

The only title that disappointed me was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and that is only because it woefully includes only half of the story.  Little Women was originally written as two books: Little Women and Good Wives. Therefore, the Whole Story version ends before Good Wives begins. Beth is still alive, Jo has not written her first book, and Professor Baer is nowhere to be found. The Whole Story, although beautifully illustrated and cleverly annotated, ends in what we find is the middle.

Various libraries in the Minuteman Library Network own copies of the series and you will find all fifteen of the titles in the catalog.  They can be a bit tricky to find and if you need help a librarian can assist you. A search should include the descriptor “whole story” series. Once located, though, you’ll want to enrich your experience of the classics with all fifteen stories. They are true jewels in the children’s and teens’ departments in our libraries.


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